Shin-hanga artist, Kawase Hasui’s woodblock prints are simply beautiful. Some might say they are nostalgic, but they are all executed with impeccable draftsmanship. I have been a big fan of his work for years. This year marks the 130th years since his birth and in order to commemorate this, two museums in Tokyo are having major exhibits of his work.
Hasui lived his later years in Ota ward and so this ward is the depository of his papers, sketches, watercolors, and the woodblock prints that were printed by Watanabe Publishing house. The Ota Museum has planned a three-part exhibit: the first one focusing on his work through the 1920s, the second one covering the period from the Kanto Earthquake in 1923 into the 1930s, and the third one from 1930s through his later years.
A good ten-minute walk from the Minami Magome station, the Ota Museum building is an unassuming modern concrete building. But once inside I was immediately amazed by the quality of the items on display. The glass cases were filled with Hasui woodblock prints and, not only that, the prints were arranged carefully next to the pencil sketches and watercolors he had prepared for each print.
I had read before that late in his life, due to a fire, Hasui lost most of his original watercolors and sketches. I had never thought I would be able to see so many watercolors of such astonishing quality by him.
As a block print artist, I am familiar with the process of making woodblock prints. Being able to examine first-hand various stages of Hasui’s work — from rough sketches to final execution, was a real treat for me, and I believe will be for many others. Especially I enjoyed viewing how he studied and sketched parts of the buildings, trees, and townscapes, first with pencil, then in watercolor. As artists, we’re constantly trying to achieve a harmonious composition — we eliminate unwanted details, rearranges compositions, find motifs, create patterns, adjust colors, so that the final work will hopefully achieve the balance we wish for.
One might be tempted to ask which he/she prefers — Hasui’s watercolor sketches or the finished block print. Without question there is undeniable perfection and beauty in the finished woodblock prints executed by the Watanabe publishing house based on Haui’s sketches. Compared to the prints, Hasui’s sketches look unfinished and raw. But the real value of these sketches lies in its ability to reveal this artists’ process of work, his skills, and his mind at work.
The exhibit will be on until March 2nd and I hope many people can have the opportunity to see this wonderful exhibit. For those who cannot make it to Japan this winter, the Museum produced a very comprehensive color catalog of the three-part exhibit. It includes all the images that are on exhibit. But I must say that there is absolutely no comparison between looking at the printed catalog pages and seeing the actual sketches and woodblock prints. Nuance and immediacy are gone in these catalog pages. If you really want to look into the artist’s process of creation, then I recommend you hop on the airplane to Tokyo today!
Information about the Hasui Exhibit:
■Early Period: from 27th October (Sunday) to 1st December (Sunday) 2013 “Works from Taisho Era to Restoration after Great Kanto Earthquake” — closed
■Middle Period: from 7th December 2013 (Saturday) to 19th January 2014 (Sunday) “Works from early to 10’s of Showa era” — closed
■Period: from 25th January (Saturday) to 2nd March (Sunday) 2014 “Works in the Showa 20’s and at his last years” — ongoing
■Venue: Folk Museum of Ota City, 5-11-13, Minami-magome, Ota-ku, Tokyo
■Contact: TEL: +81-3-3777-1070 FAX: +81-3-3777-1283
You can also visit Watanabe Woodblock Gallery in Ginza, Tokyo, to view and purchase newly reproduced woodblock prints and other “shin-hanga” artists.